Boston-Style Steamed Brown Bread & Baked Beans

This week, I present two very different cooking styles than what I’m used to. I made a happy experiment of cooking traditional Bostonian food last weekend. That’s baked beans with steamed brown bread. The bread is cooked in old coffee cans, sealed and steamed in a big pot. The beans were what started this whole exercise. Something drew me to the recipe that calls for 7 hours of slow baking time… I wonder what the word would be for getting the urge to have yummy things steep in their own juices for a while?

Erin recommended that I make steamed brown bread to accompany the beans I had already started. The flavour combo of these two foods is a bountiful  marriage. It’s wild. I am so glad that I made this food!

Steamed bread is cooked in coffee cans!

I got both these recipes from the Passionate Vegetarian by Crescent Dragonwagon. The beans are a vegetarian riff off of the traditional salt pork recipe. The brown bread omits the traditional rye flour that could replace 1/2 of the whole wheat flour. (This is simply because neither I nor Crescent who wrote the cookbook typically have rye flour in our pantries).


  • 1 lb. white beans (i.e. navy, Great Northern…), soaked
  • Oil for the pan
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 1/3 c. brown sugar
  • 1/4 c. molasses
  • 1/4 c. tomato paste
  • 1 Tbsp. golden miso
  • 1 Tbsp. dry mustard
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • Pinch of cloves
  • 2 Tbsp. butter, margarine, peanut butter or tahini (I used tahini)
  • Boiling water or vegetable stock (Yea stock!)
  • 2 to 4 oz. firm tofu, cut up into large squares (for the optional “fake pork” gag)

1. Presoak the beans overnight. Alternately, put them into a pot with water, bring to a boil, turn off the heat, and let them sit for an hour.

2. Simmer the beans in water for about 1 1/2 hours, until tender. I usually add a little bit of epazote or kombu seaweed in with the beans while they cook. These are two pantry ingredients that aid in the digestion of beans and make them taste better.

3. Preheat the oven to 275.

4. Oil a deep casserole dish or beanpot. I used a 9×9 baking dish that was barely enough to contain this recipe. Place the sliced onions at the bottom, then add the drained beans. Set aside.

5. Whisk the brown sugar, molasses, tomato paste, miso, dry mustard, salt, pepper, and ground cloves into the reserved bean cooking liquid. If using, stir in the butter. When well combined, pour over the beans. The liquid should just barely cover the beans; if it doesn’t, add just enough boiling water or vegetable stock to achieve this. Cover and bake for 6 hours, checking every once in a while to make sure that that liquid level is maintained.

6. After the beans have baked for 6 hours, uncover. Stir to distribute the onion throughout the beans. If adding the tofu, scatter if over the top of the beans, pressing in lightly, but letting it show for the visual “salt pork” effect. Return to the oven and bake for 1 hour more.

9 hours later... The beans are ready!


  • Butter for the tins
  • 1 c. stone-ground cornmeal (plus a bit more for dusting the cans)
  • 2 c. whole wheat flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 c. raisins, or diced pitted dates (I did the dates)
  • 2 c. buttermilk, yogurt, or your favourite dairy product (I used good yogurt)
  • 1/2 c. blackstrap molasses, warmed to flow more easily (you can put the jar in the pot of water as it warms up)
  • 1/4 c. honey, warmed to flow more easily

1. Have ready the cans or molds of your choice (I used three 20 oz. coffee cans, but you can also do one 2 lb. coffee can, four 15 oz. coffee cans, five 12 oz. coffee cans, or a pudding mold.), well washed, dried, oiled, and dusted with cornmeal. Also have ready some foil, the deep stockpot in whidh you’ll be steaming, your trivet or equivalent (something to raise the cans off of the bottom of the pot so they don’t burn) and one rubber band per steamer can. Put a large teakettle or pot full of water on to boil.

2. In a medium bowl, combine the whole wheat flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, stirring well. Add the raisins or dates. In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, molasses, and honey. Pour the dry mixture into the wet, stirring just enough to moisten well, and scrape the batter into the prepared cans, filling the cans about two-thirds full.

3. Cover the filled cans, using either a doubled-over square of foil sprayed with cooking spray, or brown grocery-bag paper. Puff the foil or paper a bit at the top to allow the bread room to rise above the can, and secure it around the edges of the can with a rubber band. Place the cans on a trivet, some wadded up foil, or jar rings in a a deep stockpot. Check to make sure your pot is large enough to that the pot-cover will fit tightly with the cans in place.

4. Pour the boiling water around the cans to a level about halfway up the cans. Turn the heat down to a low simmer, and cover the pot. Let the bread steam for 2 hours (for smaller can molds) to 3 hours (for coffee can-size molds), checking occasionally to add more water as needed. When done, the bread will have risen some, though not a lot, and will be firm to the touch through its foil or paper cover. Remove the cans from the pot and let the breads cool in the cans for about an hour before reversing out (Ha! I did not do that. We ate the bread hot and steaming as soon as it was ready) Serve in thick slices.

5 Comments Add yours

  1. Nate says:

    Thanks for putting up a baked beans a brown bread recipe. This recipe is straight ou my childhood.

    As for the baked beans: trying throwing in some jalapenos cooked in bacon bacon fat and some cooked bacon too. I think it works pretty good.

  2. Ha!

    I’m with Nate, I would add some bacon to the vegetarian beans! The recipe sounds great though! I wish that I could still eat Boston steamed bread. I haven’t made it since college. It is so good.


    1. I wonder if I could make a gluten free version of this bread. This menu sounds sooooo good to me right now. It just got really cold here and our heat is not working.


      1. Silvi says:

        I have been intending to make this recipe with millet flour rather than wheat flour for several weeks now. However I have not had the time or energy to do it. I think it would taste very good.

  3. ya, millet would totally work.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s